Vermont Public Radio reported Wednesday night: “Sen. Patrick Leahy said Wednesday the House “had to” open an impeachment inquiry following this week’s developments. ‘I’ve never seen a president do this with a foreign power,” Leahy said.’”
If “this” refers to pressuring the Ukrainian government to reopen its investigation of a 2020 presidential contender, Sen. Leahy need only look in the mirror. Last year, Vermont’s senior senator himself attempted to restart a Ukrainian investigation into a 2020 candidate – one Donald J. Trump. He even suggested U.S. aid to Ukraine was hanging in the balance.
In a letter written on U.S. Senate letterhead dated May 4, 2018, Sen. Leahy, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois), urged Yuriy Lutsenko, General Prosecutor of the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, to cooperate with the investigation then being conducted by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
“We have supported that capacity-building progress [i.e. foreign aid] and are disappointed that some in Kiev appear to have cast aside these principles in order to avoid the ire of President Trump. If these reports are true, we strongly encourage you to reverse course and halt any efforts to impede cooperation with this important investigation,” the senators wrote.
The translation from diplomatic jargonbluster reads like this: ‘do what we say or lose your foreign aid.’ This is not a new tactic. Those are the established rules of the foreign aid game. There are no government shekels without government shackles.
The United States Congress approves more foreign aid than any nation on earth – $50 billion in 2017. The Senate alone can approve treaties with foreign governments. In return for their patronage, senators can expect to be taken seriously by recipient governments when they request that “we believe that our cooperation should extend to such legal matters, regardless of politics,” as the three senators wrote. Coming from Leahy (vice-chair, Appropriations Committee), Menendez (former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair who backed Ukraine over Russia), and Durbin (member, Appropriations Committee), that’s no idle threat.
Yesterday the three senators hastily published a press release saying “the Senators’ letter in no way calls for the conditioning of U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.” They can claim that now. But a plain reading of the direct, two-page May, 2018 letter suggests otherwise.
In it, three senior senators already known to have budget clout remind the Ukrainians they have been “strong advocates for a robust and close relationship with Ukraine.” They “are writing to express great concern” about a Ukrainian investigation into a U.S. political rival. Then, after reminding Lutsenko again of years of vital US aid to Ukraine, the three senators tell him, “we strongly encourage you to reverse course.”
To some, that sounds like pressure. Imagine if three of the biggest investors in your entrepreneurial startup walked into your office and said, “we strongly urge you to reverse course.” Pressure? You’d be a dope to think otherwise.
If Trump really was pressuring the Ukrainian president to reopen an investigation into a political rival, so was Leahy. It doesn’t matter that Leahy himself won’t ever run against Trump. Pat Leahy doesn’t get up in the morning and wonder how he’s going to beat the Republican’s sacrificial lamb in 2022. His biggest political rival is in the White House.
And what about their motives? It may be too cynical to conclude that either elected official is abusing Constitutionally-bestowed powers just to “get” a rival. Trump promised he would drain the swamp. So when along comes a creature like Hunter Biden, rich with money received from the Ukraine and China while under the protection of his VP father, Trump’s pursuit of justice is just him fulfilling (yet another) campaign promise. Leahy may really believe that Ukrainian cooperation with Mueller would show the world Trump isn’t fit to serve.
As always with Vermonters and other Americans’ views on their elected officials, what they see depends on where they stand.